Is Anxiety a Mood Disorder? A Guide to Know the Answer

In this article, will we address one of the common questions “Is anxiety a mood disorder”.

In today’s time, when there is so much pressure on everything, most of us feel depressed from time to time. Failing in exams, arguing with friends, not being accepted in a college of your choice, or breaking up with your partner are all examples that may precipitate so-called “depression” or depressed mood.

However, mood disorders involve much more severe alterations in the mood for much longer periods.

Anxiety is also something that we all experience at some point in life, a diffuse or vague concern that something unpleasant will soon occur.

However, if such feelings become intense and persist for long periods, they can constitute another important form of mental disorder known as anxiety disorder.

It may take several different forms, i.e., many other types of anxiety disorders will be further discussed in detail.

1. What Are Mood Disorders – Overview

Mood disorders (depression, mania/bipolar, everything in between)

Some people experience swings in their emotions and mental health which are extreme and prolonged.

Their highs include extreme excitement and lows consistent with persistent worry. Such people are described as suffering from mental health problems, known as mood disorders.

The two key moods involved in mood disorders are mania1, often characterized by intense and unrealistic feelings of excitement and euphoria, and depression which usually involves feelings of extraordinary sadness and dejection.

Some people with mood disorders experience only periods or episodes characterized by depressive moods. But sometimes, an individual may have symptoms of both depression and mania.2

In these mixed episode cases, the person experiences rapidly alternating emotions such as mood feeling hopeless, euphoria, and irritable mood, all within the same episode of illness.

2. How Are Mood Disorders Diagnosed?

A woman's face with a fake smile drawn on paper and smudged eyes.
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A complete medical history and psychiatric evaluation are required to diagnose mood disorders, which are also actual mental health disorders.

Your symptoms, eating and sleeping patterns, and other behaviors will be discussed during an interview or survey conducted by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

They establish the diagnosis of mood disorders 3using criteria from the DSM-5 published by the American Psychiatric Association. Mood episodes are the foundation for diagnosing a mood disorder rather than being diagnosed in and of themselves.

3. What Causes a Mood Disorder?

Many factors can cause a mood disorder. Further, different types of mood disorders tend to have different causal factors. Some common ones are:

  • Fluctuations in brain chemicals – E.g., depression can be caused due to imbalances in the brain chemicals, i.e., when serotonin or dopamine is low.
  • Life events such as stressful life changes
  • Life’s problems such as financial trouble
  • Chronic illnesses like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and heart disease have also been related to major depression.
  • A significant family history of mood disorders is an important risk factor (especially in the case of bipolar disorder and depression)

4. How Are Mood Disorders Treated?

The different symptoms and mood conditions of the particular mental health condition determine the course chosen to treat mood disorders.4

The treatment process generally involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Family therapy and Electroconvulsive therapy can also be used.

Since family members play a vital supportive role in Family therapy, the therapist and family members work together to bring about behavioral or psychological changes in the patient.

On the other hand, in Electroconvulsive therapy5, a weak electric current is passed through the brain to induce a seizure briefly. Bipolar illness and other severe, treatment-resistant mental health disorders have responded favorably to this treatment.

It is evident that such mental disorders affect the quality of life, obstruct a person’s normal growth, and in some cases, may even lead to some other health condition which is why an early diagnosis is always better.

Thus, one should visit their healthcare provider timely to receive treatment if they feel they are showing mood disorder symptoms.

5. Types of Mood Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) recognizes various mood disorders. The major types of mood disorders are discussed below:

5.1. Bipolar Disorder

A combination of scrabble cubes spells Bipolar.
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Bipolar disorders are distinguished from unipolar disorders by the presence of depression alternating with periods of manic or hypomanic episodes.

Thus, bipolar disorder can be very disruptive not only for the person who experiences it but also for other people in their lives. The types of bipolar disorders are:

5.1.1. Cyclothymic Disorder

Some people are subject to cyclical mood changes less severe than the mood swings seen in bipolar disorder. If such symptoms persist for at least 2 years, the person may be correctly diagnosed with Cyclothymic disorder.6 The DSM-5 defines Cyclothymia as a less serious version of bipolar disorder.

In the depressed phase, a person’s mood is dejected, and they experience a distinct loss of interest or pleasure in customary activities. The person may become creative and productive in the hypomanic phase because of increased physical and mental energy.

5.1.2. Bipolar I Disorder

is distinguished from major depressive disorders by the presence of a manic or mixed episode (characterized by full-blown mania and major depression for at least 1 week, whether the symptoms are intermixed or alternate rapidly every few days).

5.1.3. Bipolar II Disorder

In this, the person does not experience full-blown manic or mixed episodes but has experienced clear-cut hypomanic episodes and major depressive episodes as in Bipolar I disorder. It is somewhat of a more common mood disorder than Bipolar I disorder.

5.2. Major Depressive Disorder

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When a deeply depressed mood comes on suddenly, ongoing sad feelings turn extreme or exist without any external cause for sadness, and it is called a major depressive disorder. 7There are several symptoms of depression, and according to the DSM-5, one needs to meet the criteria for a certain amount of symptoms of depression8 to be diagnosed with it.

Some common symptoms of depression include feeling depressed most of every day, having little or no pleasure in activities, feeling fatigued, having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, significant weight changes, excessive feelings of guilt, worthlessness, rejection, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.

Some symptoms of depression may be even more extreme such as having delusions, hallucinations, thoughts of death, suicide, or suicide attempts. To receive a diagnosis of depression, a person must show these symptoms for at least two consecutive months.

Although this disorder manifests itself in various ways, depression is very common. Major depression is the most common of the diagnosed mood disorders and is 1.5-3 times more likely in women than men.

The most recent epidemiological results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication found lifetime prevalence rates of unipolar major depression at nearly 17%. These depression rates stand to be true across cultures as well.

One of the major causes of depression is stressful life events. Most episodic life events involved in precipitating depression include the loss of a loved one, divorce, economic problems, or serious health conditions.

Furthermore, in someone who already possesses a neurotic personality, a stressful life event is more likely to trigger depression.

5.3. Substance-Induced Mood Disorder

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By Pavel Danilyuk/ Pexels Copyright 2022

Depressive, anxious, psychotic, manic, or other symptoms that develop as a physiological result of drug abuse or substance abuse are referred to as substance-induced mood disorders.

The irony of substance-induced mood disorder is that while most people use drugs to feel better, they end up feeling worse.

Substance abuse can range from alcohol, cannabis, steroids, and hallucinogens to caffeine and cocaine.

6. What Is Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorder is likely a mental health disorder characterized by unrealistic and irrational fears. These fears are strong enough to cause disturbances to one’s daily activities and physical health.

Different perspectives on how personality develops offer different explanations for the various types of anxiety disorders discussed below. For instance, the psychodynamic model views anxiety as a danger signal that repressed urges or conflicts threaten to surface.

The cognitive-behavioral model may see anxiety as a result of irrational and illogical thought processes.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

6.1. Types of Anxiety Disorders

The DSM-5 recognizes the following types of anxiety disorders:

6.1.1. Specific Phobia

Fear of objects or specific situations or events

6.1.2. Generalized Anxiety Disorder

An anxiety disorder in which a person has feelings of dread and impending doom along with physical symptoms of stress, which lasts for 6 months or more

6.1.3. Social Anxiety

Fear of interacting with others or being in social situations that might lead to a negative evaluation

6.1.4. Panic Disorder

An anxiety disorder in which panic attacks occur more than once or repeatedly and cause persistent worry or changes in behavior

Earlier, obsessive-compulsive disorder, acute stress disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder were all recognized as a type of anxiety disorder. However, in the recent revision of DSM-5, they are now put under separate categories of their own.

People with these various mental disorders differ in terms of the relative preponderance of fear or panic versus anxiety symptoms that they experience and in the kinds of objects or situations that most concern them.

For example, people with social anxiety exhibit many anxiety symptoms about the possibility of encountering their phobic situation. Still, they may also experience fear or panic when encountering the situation.

People with panic disorder experience both panic attacks and intense anxiety focused on the possibility of getting another one.

On the other hand, people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder are likely to experience worrisome feelings about bad things that could possibly happen.

6.2. Treatment of Anxiety Disorders

Understanding and treating anxiety disorders

There are many treatment options for anxiety disorders, which vary depending on the type. Just like mood disorders, a combination of medications and psychotherapy has proved effective.

6.2.1. Anti-Anxiety Medications

Antidepressants, Bupropion, and Benzodiazepines are the most common ones prescribed by a healthcare provider. Benzodiazepines are meant to be an add-on to the treatment process. The patient is not allowed to take them frequently as they can lead to dependency and worsen feelings.

6.2.2. Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is used most frequently for anxiety disorders, especially generalized anxiety disorder. Its main goal is to structure maladaptive and illogical thoughts into more adaptive ones so that the person can approach situations without feeling anxious.

7. Is Anxiety a Mood Disorder?

Two of the most common mental illnesses people suffer from are mood disorders (most commonly depression) and anxiety disorders. There are many similarities between the two mental health conditions, which is why people often get confused and ask, “Is anxiety a mood disorder?”.

However, even when anxiety does affect our feelings, just like a mood disorder, it is not one, and here is why:

7.1. Anxiety Indirectly Influences Mood

Firstly, the confusion stems from the fact that anxiety disorders trigger symptoms of mood disorders as they are two frequently co-occurring disorders. Among the most common co-occurring disorders is depression.

Similarly, people who have a mood disorder are more likely to develop feelings of anxiety. Although anxiety can impact our mood, it cannot be categorized as a mood disorder.

The reason is that anxiety indirectly influences mood but is not related to it directly. Hopelessness, fear, and various other emotions can all emerge from anxiety. On the other hand, mood disorders refer to mental health problems such as depression, mania, and seasonal affective disorder.

7.2. Almost the Same Symptoms

Secondly, the two mental illnesses seem to have almost the same symptoms, such as irritability, trouble sleeping, and many more. However, even in this case, there are differences in how these symptoms are manifested and exhibited in the person.

For instance, social anxiety generally stems from a traumatic/embarrassing experience in the past in front of a huge crowd, whereas depression can occur due to any reason mentioned above.

In both cases, the common symptoms may be that the person refuses to interact with others or leave the house often. Even though the symptoms are the same, how they were originally manifested, i.e., the root cause, was very different.

Similarly, excessive worry is the most prominent feeling among people with an anxiety disorder, whereas people with depression tend to be duller and thoughts of suicide are more common. This is why, in the DSM-5, mood disorders and anxiety disorders are classified into two different categories.

7.3. Treatment Options Tend to Overlap

Thirdly, although the treatment options tend to overlap, they also have some differences. This is because, depending upon the mental health disorder, the goal of the treatment needs to be structured accordingly to tackle the main area causing distress to the individual.

As mentioned above, the symptoms exhibited in the two disorders might be the same, but the root cause could be completely different, which is why the treatment also tends to differ, even if the method used is the same. This is true, especially in the case of psychotherapy.

For example, medications might vary slightly in both cases, even if antidepressants are prescribed. In the case of psychotherapy, CBT and talk therapy are generally preferred for treating anxiety disorders as opposed to family therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, or counseling for depression or any other mood disorder.

7.4. The Effects of the Two Mental Health Disorders Differ

Lastly, the effects of the two mental health disorders on the person also differ. For example, people with mood disorders, especially those with depression, tend to engage in substance abuse more than those with an anxiety disorder. On the other hand, sex/relationship problems trouble individuals with anxiety and mood disorders.

8. Ending Thoughts

In both disorders, it is important to note that the ongoing feelings tend to be excessive, i.e., both feelings of anxiety and depression are common. We all feel anxious or low from time to time.

However, these feelings are fleeting, and neither do they stay for a prolonged period nor obstruct our daily functioning. This is why anxiety and mood disorders are often not taken seriously – another undeniable similarity between the two.

However, when such feelings persist for a specific amount of months, to the extent that they are intense and even illogical, then a mental health disorder diagnosis is possible.

Also read: What is Wellbutrin Weight loss

Anxiety Vs. Panic Attacks 3 Key Differences
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  6. HOWLAND, ROBERT H., and MICHAEL E. THASE. “A comprehensive review of cyclothymic disorder.” The Journal of nervous and mental disease 181.8 (1993): 485-493. ↩︎
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